Earlier this week Bristol City announced that there had been complaints of persistent swearing in the family stands at the brand new Ashton Gate.
The press release asked that people please refrain from using bad language consistently in areas where there might be small children and families around. As one of the travelling Reading fans (our songs were of course suitably expletive-free that afternoon) this did get me thinking; do we swear too much at games? And as a rule, should we be expected not to?
The first point to make here in my opinion is that there is a major difference between using swearing to abuse the opposition (or in the worst cases, one of your own team), and using it to make a particularly emotive or powerful point.
The former is generally frowned upon and as a consequence seems to be reserved for local derbies, divers, or members of the opposition who seem to delight in winding your boys up (did somebody say Diego Costa?) The latter is all too readily used as a part of footballing vocabulary, either to describe some particularly poor defending, a bad refereeing decision, or even just as part of a much-loved chant.
On the one hand, there come the arguments that it’s part of the game, like it or lump it. There are those who view swearing as the natural accompaniment to football, just like terrible pre-match burgers and linesmen who need to take a trip down to their local opticians.
They do not necessarily use bad language when particularly wound up or angered, just as a way of talking about the game. This is possibly a relic of the days when football was not particularly inclusive when it came to the demographic of those watching it live – women and families were not, as a rule, part of the normal matchday experience. Men could come to the football and use it as their way of letting off steam – their release – after a hard weeks work, and all the struggles and strains that go with it.
On the other hand, some people believe – in my opinion, quite rightly – that it is still uncomfortable bringing young children to games because of the sometimes unpleasant atmosphere. While there is no doubt that this has improved beyond recognition since the dark days of the 70s and 80s, when fighting on the terraces was horribly commonplace, there are still a few games a season (mostly between local rivals or in big cup ties), when the aggression and high-strung emotions can all spill over a little bit. Swearing and bad language can sometimes seem a symbol of this, and one that many would like to do away with as much as possible.
The problem when trying to cut out this type of behaviour at grounds is that very often those who swear, abuse players every now and then and generally make themselves heard are sometimes also those who inject the passion and urgency into the crowds. Do away with that, and the atmosphere at football matches would be very different indeed.
Many young men still go to away games looking forward to that boisterous, slightly edgy atmosphere. I am not for a moment suggesting anybody goes to a game for a confrontation, but they do go to be part a distinctly tribal, partisan atmosphere.
In the end then there is no easy solution to an issue that has plagued football authorities for decades and will continue to do so. Maybe, just maybe, the decision would be easier to make if the players and managers were pulled up for bad language…
But that, as they say, is another story.